You might say the folksy Mike Huckabee, longtime talk show host, pastor and former governor of Arkansas. Or maybe Marco Rubio, the GOP senator from Florida who seems to connect well with voters, and in his speeches evinces empathy for people with modest incomes. Or maybe Hillary Clinton – I’ve encountered her personally twice in my journalism career and she was engaging both times, in fact far more so than I expected, even though she is avoiding the press, and big crowds, for right now.
But in the world of social media, “engagement” means something else entirely. Think of “engagement” as a measure of the intensity of a reader’s response to, or willingness to act on, something they read on a social media channel, usually a post on Facebook or Twitter. The more “engaged” a reader is, the more they act on that particular post.
An “engagement” can include a comment made on a Facebook post, or sharing it with your Facebook friends. This is a higher form of engagement than simply “liking” it. On Twitter you might not only decide to follow a Twitter account, you might retweet a particular post – sending it to all of your followers – or you might “favorite” it which sends a message back to the sender that you liked that Tweet, and it saves it in your “favorites” queue so you can read it or refer to it later.
So how “engaging” are the candidates for the White House?
Facebook uses a public engagement measurement called “People Talking About This” – it measures over the prior seven-day period how many people engaged with the posts on that Facebook page – readers might have “liked” a post, shared one, tagged a photo, RSVP’d to an event advertised on the timeline, or something else that shows they interacted with the post. Here is that engagement measurement for the candidates in the 7 days leading up to May 18.
Candidate “People Talking about This” on Facebook
Bernie Sanders, the iconoclastic senator from Vermont who is competing with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president, won this most recent week hands down. Now, I’m not in the tank for Bernie Sanders although I am a registered independent. But I am surprised how well he keeps doing on social media. One explanation for this high number is that during this time he got a great deal of engagement on his Facebook posts touting his new bill introduced into Congress that would make a college education free for everyone, through federal monies. Now, I don’t think that’s a proposal that will pass, but young people like it, and that may explain his high level of engagement this past week. But every week, Sanders is scoring high on social media.
[For the candidates who currently hold public office, I combined their Facebook’s “People Talking About This” measurement from both their presidential campaign pages and the Facebook page for them as U.S. senators.]
After Sanders comes Mike Huckabee and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, two of the three (Carly Fiorina is the other) most recent candidates to enter the race for the Republican nomination. People are highly engaged with the Huckabee and Carson Facebook content. That could indicate intensity of interest among their social media followers, or it may indicate new curiosity because the two men just entered the race. But it is something to watch.
Twitter doesn’t disclose a total engagement number in the way that Facebook does, but you can look at the retweets and “favorites” for a given Twitter account to see how the candidates are doing.
For this table I counted the favorites and retweets for each candidate’s tweets for a 24 hour period, May 17 to May 18.
Candidate # of Tweets favorited or retweeted
Sanders comes out on top in this measurement too, followed by Hillary Clinton, who is far more popular on Twitter than she is, so far, on Facebook. Rand Paul got a lot of engagement because he was tweeting a great deal about his plan to filibuster the renewal of the USA Patriot Act and its provisions allowing the National Security Agency to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk.
In the overall popularity snapshot taken on May 18, here’s how the candidates break down in total likes on Facebook, and followers on Twitter, added together into one number:
Candidate Total Facebook likes/Twitter followers
Everyone kept the same rank as last week in the popularity race, save for one: Bernie Sanders moved up a notch to surpass Marco Rubio in total followers and likes.
Who added the most new followers and “likes” in the week between March 11 and March 18? Here’s how that breaks down:
Candidate New Facebook likes & Twitter followers May 11-18
This is different in many ways from the prior week. Sanders remains on top in the number of new followers and likes, but Clinton, Rubio and Paul all gained. Clinton moved into second; she was third the week before. Rubio moved from fifth to fourth. Rand Paul moved from seventh in the prior week to fifth. Carson fell from second to third. Huckabee who had been fourth last week fell to seventh. Cruz stayed in sixth both weeks and Fiorina was last both weeks.
I can’t say that these measurements are predictive of how voters will vote in primaries or the general election. We’re a long way from that. And the United States doesn’t really have a national presidential election; we have presidential elections in the 50 states, which determine the Electoral College count, and then the winner. Candidates have to win states, not necessarily voters.
But social media indicators do point to popularity, intensity, and relative shifts among the candidates. Stay tuned to the Social Media Poll.
Special thanks to Alan Rosenblatt, a social media and Internet expert in Washington, who is on Twitter at @DrDigiPol and on Tumblr at Dr. Digipol, who pointed me in the right direction on some of this data.